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James L. Massey

Posted: Wednesday, Jul 17th, 2013

COPENHAGEN, Denmark - James Lee Massey, Ph.D., 79, of Copenhagen, Denmark, formerly of Mendota, died June 16, 2013 in Copenhagen after a struggle with colon cancer.

Funeral services were held on June 22 at the Sondra Chapel in Copenhagen.

Dr. Massey was born Feb. 11, 1934 in Wauseon, Ohio, the firstborn of twin sons, to Charles Arnold and Ethel (Pry) Massey (later Ethel P. Sperry).

Survivors include his wife, Lis K. Massey of Copenhagen; his twin brother, Gerald J. Massey, Distinguished Service Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh; one sister, Joan Kramer of Sylvania, Ohio; four sons, Thomas A. Massey, Robert B. Massey, Peter C. Massey, and John D. Massey; two Danish stepsons, Flemming K. Bonde and Jesper K. Bonde; six grandchildren; seven step-grandchildren; and one step-great-granddaughter.

He was preceded in death by his parents; his grandparents, William and Carrie Pry; aunts and uncles, Attorney James H. and Edith (Pry) Dubbs, Andrew and Dorothy (Pry) Paulin, and Clarence and Dorothy (Oester) Pry, all formerly of Mendota, and Sally (Becker) Pry and Floyd Pry, formerly of Sublette; and one brother-in-law, Lester N. Kramer, formerly of Mendota.

Dr. Massey was a 1948 graduate of Holy Cross School in Mendota and a 1952 graduate of St. Bede Academy. He attended the University of Notre Dame 1952-56 on an NROTC scholarship, graduating maxima cum laude in electrical engineering and as class valedictorian. After three years active service (1956-59) as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, Dr. Massey attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on a National Science Foundation Scholarship, earning the M.S. (1960) and Ph.D. (1962) degrees in Electrical Engineering. Codex Corporation (later part of Motorola) was founded to make the hardware needed to implement the threshold-decoding ideas developed in his doctoral dissertation. During 1962-77, Dr. Massey was a professor in Notre Dame’s School of Engineering, where he was appointed the Frank M. Freimann Professor of Electrical Engineering, thereby earning the distinction of holding Notre Dame’s first endowed chair. He was awarded honorary doctoral degrees by Lund University (Sweden 1990) and the Technical University of Munich (Germany 2006). After leaving Notre Dame, Dr. Massey taught briefly at MIT and UCLA before accepting in 1980 a professorship in digital engineering at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland, where he worked until his 1998 retirement as Professor Emeritus of Digital Engineering. From 1998 until his death, Dr. Massey lived in Copenhagen, Denmark and held an adjunct research appointment at the University of Lund.

An internationally acclaimed pioneer in digital communications (information theory, coding theory and cryptology), Dr. Massey received virtually every honor and award available to communications scientists and digital engineers. He was a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, the Swiss Academy of Engineering Sciences, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. He was a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) since 1971, and a Fellow of the International Association for Cryptologic Research since 2009. Dr. Massey was the 1992 recipient of the Alexander Graham Bell Medal, awarded annually by the IEEE for “exceptional contributions to the advancement of communications sciences and engineering.” He received the Baker Prize in 1987, awarded for “the most outstanding paper reporting original work” in IEEE publications. In 1988, Dr. Massey received the Claude E. Shannon Award, the most prestigious prize in Information Theory, from the Information Theory Society for “consistent and profound contributions to the field of Information Theory.” The Marconi Foundation awarded the Marconi Prize, which includes a $100,000 honorarium and an original work of sculpture, to Dr. Massey in 1999. The Information Theory Society presented him its Distinguished Service Award in 2004.

Dr. Massey worked principally in coding theory, especially error-correcting codes, and later in cryptology. Much of his work was sponsored by NASA and the National Science Foundation, as well as by corporations and governmental entities. He particularly liked to tackle challenging problems brought to him by research institutes and companies whose own scientists and engineers had been unable to solve them; he would say that there must be something interesting about such problems that makes them resist solution. Praised and honored as a teacher, Dr. Massey became a treasured mentor to an entire generation of digital engineers.

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